General manager Dayton Moore has talked about the process of building a winner for so long that it has become a bit of a running gag among the team's fans. When they refer to the Royals' perpetual rebuilding on messages boards and such, they give it the capitalization process, referring to it as The Process.
Well, the process, or The Process, has been slow. The Royals improved by just two wins this season as they went from 65-97 to 67-95. They have lost at least 93 games eight times in the last 10 seasons and this year marked the fifth time in the last six in which the Royals finished last in the American League Central.
However, there are signs that The Process might begin paying off. The Royals have what is generally regarded as the best farm system in baseball and some of those players should be ready to contribute at the major league level in 2011, though 2012 is when the trickle should start turning into a flow of talent.
Knowing the Royals are at least one more year away from being in position to possibly make a serious jump in the standings, this is what I would do if I were the GM:
My first order of business would be to see exactly what the trade market is for right-hander Zack Greinke. He clearly slipped this season, going from 9.9 WARP and the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 to 3.6 this season. More alarming is that he expressed frustration at the slow pace of The Process and openly questioned whether the Royals would be competitive before his contract expires after the 2012 season.
That being said, I would have to be blown away to give up Greinke. I'd need two young controllable pitchers for the starting rotation and two prospects. Chances are good that no will meet that asking price in light of Greinke's slippage, but it wouldn't hurt to ask.
Ownership plans to take the payroll down from $75 million to about $60 million for next season. The Royals do have quite a few contracts coming off the books, including those of Jose Guillen, Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, Juan Cruz, and Kyle Farnsworth. While the payroll reduction doesn't give the Royals room to add many players, the good news is that they have enough internal options to get by until the top prospects start arriving in 2012.
Assuming Greinke isn't dealt, three spots in the rotation are set with him and right-handers Luke Hochevar and Kyle Davies. Not a terrific threesome, to be sure, but enough upside there for improvement.
The first impulse would be to re-sign left-hander Bruce Chen, the Royals' only free agent, for the fourth starter spot after he set a career high with 3.1 WARP in his 12th major league season with his 11th team. The Royals have gotten into trouble before by entering into long-term deals with mediocre veterans. Thus, I'd offer Chen one year and that's it. If he wants more, well, good luck finding it somewhere else.
Right-hander Brian Bannister probably has a greater understanding of sabermetrics and advanced baseball analytics of any player in the major leagues. Thus, he will understand that he must be non-tendered after producing just 0.2 SNLVAR and having a VORP of -13.5 while making a $2.3 million salary this year.
There is also right-hander Sean O'Sullivan, though he still needs to earn a job in spring training after being so-so during the final two months of the following his acquisition from the Angels. Spring training would also be an ideal time to see if left-handers Danny Duffy and Everett Teaford are ready to make the jump from Double-A to the low-pressure role of fifth starter.
The other player worth dangling in trade talks is outfielder David DeJesus, whose $6 million option for next season has already been exercised. DeJesus was being pursued by a number of contenders before suffering a season-ending thumb injury on July 22. With his ability to play all three outfield positions, he could seemingly be able to fetch a middle infielder and/or a center fielder with promise, something the Royals lack in the upper levels of their deep system.
The pickings are slim beyond that group by the Royals at least have players who can be placeholders until better talent comes along, including second baseman Chris Getz, middle infielder Mike Aviles, who could move to third; shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt and rookie center fielder Jarrod Dyson, whose speed and defense would play better if he could get on base. Aviles, of course, can play both middle-infield positions with either Wilson Betemit or Josh Fields playing third base. However, the optimal setup would be to have Betemit be a part-timer as he gets exposed defensively with regular play with Aviles playing second while cutting Fields loose as he wouldn't be worth paying close to a $1 million salary in arbitration.
With Jason Kendall out until at least June 1 while recovering from shoulder surgery, there is no sense investing heavily in a veteran catcher as internal options Brayan Pena and Lucas May can hold the fort until Wil Myers becomes the starter as early as 2012.
A right-handed bat could be used for balance since Butler, Ka'aihue, and Gordon all swing from the left side. Free agency would be the route to go and the Braves' Matt Diaz or Giants' Cody Ross would be a good one-season fit in right field at a reasonable salary if they are non-tendered this winter.
With closer Joakim Soria leading the way, the bullpen does not need much work and should theoretically get a boost from Gil Meche becoming a full-time, albeit expensive, reliever and tiny left-handed prospect Tim Collins set to debut at the start of next season. Also on the roster are Robinson Tejeda, Blake Wood, Jesse Chavez, Kanekoa Texeira, and left-hander Dusty Hughes. A better-than-average bullpen can be crafted from that pool of pitchers.
Here's one interesting dilemma when putting together the bullpen: Brian Anderson, the former White Sox center fielder, began making the conversion to reliever this season and hit 97 mph in the minor leagues. However, he is eligible for arbitration and has yet to throw a pitch in a major league game. The logical solution would be to non-tender Anderson, offer him a minor league contract heavy with performance bonuses based on games pitched and hope he shows loyalty to an organization that was willing to commit to his conversion rather than sign somewhere else.
In the end, though, it's all about 2012 for the Royals. By then, impact prospects such as Duffy, Myers, left-hander Mike Montgomery, catcher Wil Myers, first baseman Eric Hosmer, and third baseman Mike Moustakas should be ready to assume key roles—and, hopefully, keep Greinke interested in staying to help lead the way back to respectability for a franchise that hasn't been to the postseason since its lone World Series title and appearance in 1985. Thus, this winter's game plan is bide time and let The Process continue.